Contributed by Dick James
Recently Google launched their Pixel phone with great fanfare and media response. This is the first phone for which Google designed
the hardware, software, and cloud ecosystem, as opposed to the Google Nexus phones, which used the Android operating system and Google branding, but the physical design was sourced elsewhere.
We've seen this before somewhere...
When we compared the detailed specifications, however, we thought “We’ve seen this before somewhere…” and we had. Many of the parts found in the Pixel are also used in the Xiaomi Mi 5s,
and were therefore also recently in-house.
Our comparison begins on the outside. The Pixel is available in two models with 5 and 5.5-inch screens, while the Mi 5s splits the difference with a 5.15-inch display. The Pixels each have a machined aluminum case with a glass insert containing the fingerprint sensor, and the displays are full high definition (FHD) AMOLEDs at 441 ppi for the smaller phone and 534 ppi for the XL. The battery sizes are 2770 and 3450 mAh (10.66 and 13.28 Wh), respectively, and consumers have the choice of 32 GB or 128 GB of memory for either model.
Google also claim that the camera is “The highest rated smartphone camera. Ever.” It is actually a Sony IMX378 12.3 MP unit, which follows the current trend to larger pixels (1.55 µm)
for better light collection, and even though the camera has built-in phase detection autofocus, they have added laser range finding as well
(see our blog on Time-of-Flight sensors).
Finally, getting back to the mundane, the color options are cutely called “Quite Black” and “Very Silver”.
By contrast, the Mi 5s has the conventional home/fingerprint sensor on the front (under the glass, with no button), and the display is a more conventional IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with a ~428 ppi pixel density Unlike the Pixel, this is a dual-SIM phone. There are 64 GB and 128 GB versions, though the 64 GB model has only
3 GB of system memory, while the 128 GB device has 4 GB . The battery is ~3100 mAh (~12 Wh), again splitting the difference in the Pixels, and available colors include pink, grey, silver, and gold.
Turning inward, when we get to the main camera, we start to see the similarities – it’s the same “highest rated smartphone camera,” the Sony IMX378, though without the laser autofocus – and when we look at the detailed inventories, we see there are a large number of parts in common:
To this list we’ve added our cost estimates. The biggest cost differential is the display, but in terms of major component cost, there’s only about a $25 difference.
Of course this is just a costing for the main semiconductors, and does not include some of the RF front end, substrates, non-electronics, “other”, supporting materials, and final assembly and test.
These items are, however, included in our “Deep Dive” teardowns, which are detailed product dis-assembly analyses, available at Teardown.com.
Given that the Pixel is priced at US$649 for its lowest-cost 32 GB model, and the 5s is RMB 1,999 (~US$300) in China for a 64 GB phone, we are left wondering what you get for this price difference!?
The Pixel displays are described as “flat-out gorgeous OLED screens with deep blacks and vibrant, punchy colors,”
but is it $20 in major component cost better than the “great colors, blacks and brightness topping out at 650 lux” of the Mi 5s?
The Pixels do have a better selfie camera, as well as the laser-focusing for the main camera, and they appear to have more RF bands – so hopefully more world-phone flexibility – but for the average user, would these be critical differences?
Google has launched the Pixel phones as part of their ecosystem, to compete with the Apple and Samsung ecosystems, and it could be argued this is included in the price. The Mi 5s uses the Xiaomi MIUI 8.0 operating system, based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, whereas the Pixels use the latest Android 7.1 Nougat OS, tuned specifically for them.
Here, we have to rely on the online reviews of the two brands – this is what we found on the Xiaomi Mi 5s:
And the Google Pixels:
A feature specific to the Pixel phones is Google Assistant, the cloud-based artificial-intelligence personal aide that is tied into the
Daydream VR headset, the new Chromecast Ultra, the Home interface, and a new
Google Wi-Fi home router.
Google has warned that Assistant is still in its early days, and updates will be coming regularly, but in general, it has had positive reviews, ranging from “the Assistant blew away every competitor I’ve tried. It shredded Siri, which has a five-year lead.”
to “the Google Assistant is absolutely the smartest of the assistant bunch, but it's not yet in a class of its own”.
In the end, the Assistant capability is the big differentiator between the Xiaomi and the Google phones, so ultimately, it comes down to whether you want that Google experience that comes with the Pixels, or simply a high-spec phone.
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